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Essay Introduction--what does it contain?

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I have so many composition resources, but I can't figure out what to teach my kids about introductions to academic essays.

I know they need to engage the reader and state a thesis.

Will they also be expected to forecast/preview their main points in the introduction?

 A lot of my resources seem to teach "tell you what I"ll tell you/preview structure and thesis, body/main points, close, maybe summarizing my main points in some fashion.," and some of them lead me to believe this is expected in academic writing. Is it? I don't want to teach my kids wrong, but I really dislike a run-down of main points in the introduction. Maybe this is because it seems unnecessary in the simpler essays we're writing, while a major paper would benefit more.  

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You basically have it. Laying out your arguments is a good thing to do in the intro. I think one of the things that is often missing when it's taught is telling students they should define their terms. If they're going to talk about a law, say what the law does in the intro. If they're going to talk about a novel, say what the novel is. Is they're going to talk about a period of history, say when it is they're talking about. This is another one that doesn't matter much in smaller essays, but can when kids cover slightly obscure stuff. Ds just wrote a paper about trading card games. Fine. Persuasive essay about a topic of his choosing. Very basic stuff. But I needed him to define the industry terms he was throwing around.

I think you can't teach them "wrong" as long as you're clear that the rules aren't hard and fast. I've had students in class who were told that a thesis is ALWAYS one sentence. Well, generally, but it doesn't absolutely have to be. Or that the thesis MUST be at the start or end of the introduction. At the end is good, especially when you're first learning, but it's not a requirement. Students who are taught these "very strict rules" get upset when other teachers want them broken or have slightly different variants. They should understand that slightly different academic settings and even individual teachers may have specific expectations and they should find out what they are and fill them. Also, once they get good, the rules are made to be broken. The really good essays bend the rules - in the introduction and elsewhere.

Best writing advice about introductions is to write them last, after you understand what the paper really is. Even on standardized tests, students can leave a space at the top and go back and fill it in.

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Not that you asked for another resource...but my favorite resource for teaching essay writing it The Lively Art of Writing. The author provides a basic structure for introductions that is both effective and flexible. In a nutshell, she suggests the writer begin with a general,  non-controversial statement related to the topic and then gradually narrow in focus to the specific, arguable thesis statement. I grade a lot of essays, and when students do this well, it sets up their arguments perfectly. As the previous poster said, it is a good place to define key terms as part of that transition from general to specific.

I always instruct my students to never begin arguing their thesis in the intro. If they preview their main points, it can be done very, very briefly in the thesis statement itself for most essays. 

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I agree that Lively is a good resource for introductions. The only thing I would warn of there is that when kids try to start general, they often go too general. I am in a graduate class for teachers who teach composition. The most common complaint is papers that start, "In our world today" or "In our society today" or any variation on that. The kids have all been told to start general and then get specific, and we're all ok with that, but make sure that what is there is really introducing the topic, not just a broad statement for the sake of being broad.

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